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When it comes to identification numbers, Medicare numbers don't get much attention. Your Social Security number is something you use throughout your lifetime, as it's used on tax returns, and in building up eligibility for Social Security retirement and disability benefits.
Typically, newborns get Social Security numbers shortly after birth; by contrast, most people don't get a Medicare number until they apply for the program at age 65. As it turns out, though, there are some interesting aspects of your Medicare number that many people frequently misunderstand. Let's take a look at some of the hidden aspects of your Medicare number.
Medicare numbers: Like Social Security, but with a catch
The vast majority of people have a Medicare number that's almost identical to their Social Security number. Because the Social Security Administration already tracks wage information for its own eligibility purposes, it's natural for Medicare to use the same number for Medicare eligibility tracking.
However, in some cases, your Medicare number won't have your Social Security number. If you're eligible under someone else's work record, then it will be that person's Social Security number that makes up the bulk of the Medicare number.
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Why that extra letter is so important
If multiple people can end up with Medicare numbers using the same Social Security number, how can Medicare tell them apart? The answer lies in that simple code at the end of your Medicare number.
Most Medicare recipients have code A in their Medicare number. That confirms that the person is eligible for Medicare based on his or her own work history. A few other codes apply to wage earners claiming on their own Social Security numbers, with HA representing a disabled worker getting early Medicare benefits, and M and T representing those who are eligible for Medicare, but not Social Security. M usually refers to those who have Medicare Part B coverage only, while T includes those who have both Part A and Part B.
For those who aren't eligible for Medicare benefits on their own work record, a number of different categories apply:
- The B category applies to those who are drawing on their living spouse's work record. B applies to a wife drawing on a husband's record, while B1 is for a husband drawing on a wife's record. Subsequent B codes from B2 to B9 and from BA to BY apply in families where current spouses were previously married to other people.
- The C category applies to child Medicare beneficiaries. The youngest child gets code C1, the next youngest gets C2, and so on through C9 and then from CA to CZ.
- The D category indicates those claiming Medicare based on a deceased spouse solely due to age. D and D1 are the most common codes here, representing a widow or widower over 60, respectively. Other codes in the D series apply to surviving divorced spouses, as well as widows and widowers who remarry.
- The E category applies to widows and widowers who are also parents of qualifying children.
- F category codes are assigned to dependent parents of the worker who earned Medicare benefits.
- The J and K categories apply to workers and spouses respectively who become eligible for special Medicare benefits without drawing Social Security. Different codes apply depending on whether you've earned Part A coverage or have to pay for it separately.
- The W category applies to disabled widows and widowers. W is for widows and W1 is for widowers, while those who've been previously married may have different W-category codes.
If you have a question about a specific code, your best bet is to contact Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE. For the most part, though, these general categories should point you in the right direction to understand the coverage you've earned.
Given how important Medicare is for the financial security of retired Americans, it might come as a surprise that your Medicare card typically includes the most valuable piece of information that identity thieves would ever want. Some have said that Medicare numbers should be based on a completely different system.
For now, though, you can expect your Medicare number to remain linked to the Social Security number of the worker whose record earned those benefits. Understanding the codes linked to those numbers is useful for healthcare providers to understand the nature of how you qualified for Medicare.
The article What Does Your Medicare Number Mean? originally appeared on Fool.com.
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